Cool coding just for kids

If nerds are the new rock stars, it’s time to get kids techy

TECH innovation depends on brainpower. That’s why encouraging children to study STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is vital. And the good news is there’s help at hand. Lego has just launched its Boost sets, which incorporate app-based coding — allowing kids to bring their creations to life.

Aimed at children aged seven and older, the kits enable youngsters to build projects including Vernie The Robot and the Guitar 4000, while learning about how the built-in motors and sensors work. They can even add personality to their creations using voice recordings.

The Danish toymaker is also working on a Women Of Nasa set. Designed to mark the accomplishments of women and people of colour in space (and hopefully encourage their successors) it has just been given the green light to go into production.

Inspiration: Pioneering Nasa scientist Katherine Johnson celebrated in Lego

The space pioneers included are the first American woman to fly in space, Sally Ride; Apollo mission computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; the first African-American woman in space, Mae Jemison; astronomer Nancy Grace Roman; and African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson (pictured top), whose incredible story and life at Nasa is told in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

Amazon’s STEM Club is a new monthly subscription service that delivers age-appropriate science, technology, engineering and maths toys to your door to encourage children to learn through play. The scheme is currently limited to the US but if successful it could also land in the UK.

Closer to home is Turinglab, an organisation dedicated to teaching coding to children aged 11 to 16. It has teamed up with IT consultancy BJSS to provide annual coding scholarships for children from low-income families, initially in Leeds and Manchester.

‘We are in the digital age and those without digital skills will be left behind,’ says Professor Susan Eisenbach from Imperial College London, which is supporting the scheme. ‘The evidence shows that girls and children from low-income families are disengaging early on, precluding them from providing digital solutions in the future.’

The response to the work done in schools by Tim Peake and the UK Space Agency for the astronaut’s mission aboard the International Space Station shows how important it is to inspire kids.

And with pocket-sized BBC Micro:bit computers given to a million UK pupils in 2016, the movement is picking up pace. After all, the surefire way to ensure youngsters’ jobs aren’t taken by robots is to make sure that they’re the people who know how to program them.

Log on to start coding: madewithcode.com is a girl-focused initiative for beginners csedweek.org has fun hour-long coding tutorials for ages as young as three.

Lego life a safe social network for kids

Entry-level robotics: Lego’s Vernie

AVAILABLE free on iOS and Android, the Lego Life app has a central feed comprising Lego creations shared by its young users, along with posts from Lego including challenges that encourage kids into creative building.

But Lego has taken a number of steps to ensure that kids using the network remain anonymous, including a sign-up permission link that’s emailed to parents, and automated usernames.

What’s more, children can only respond to other users’ posts with stickers and emojis and not with open text.

‘Everything they upload is moderated before its goes live,’ says Rob Lowe, senior director for Lego Life.

In future, children will be able to add videos with voice-changing capability, while Lego Life will also be integrated into the firm’s other products.

‘Codes created using Lego Boost will be shareable so that other kids can download and use them,’ says Lowe.